“So much has been given to me; I have not time to ponder over that which has been denied.” -Helen Keller
“So much has been given to me; I have not time to ponder over that which has been denied.” -Helen Keller
“Dance like this is your last dance,” Ray Diaz, who is teaching this morning’s Sweat Your Prayers class at the Joffrey in the West Village, tells us. “Because you never know when that last dance could be.”
Stepping in to the studio, the room is very full. People are sprawled all over the floor, beginning to stretch and unfurl. A little current of wind turns me right away, and I rise and fall, one hand touching ground the other reaching to sky, my shoulder rolling open and turning me in the opposite direction – big, weighted circles on the ground’s plane and on every diagonal, my head blissfully released.
Ray encourages us to move slowly and softly, and to begin to “fill up the inner reservoir.” I find a spot near the middle of the room and stretch to my full length, rolling over the back of my head, stretching my hips, leg muscles, pressing my chest down to stretch the front of my shoulder. Before long I am on my knees, with a raised leg that crosses behind me and drags me into a spin, sinking to the ground again, coming up onto my shoulder blade and using its momentum to pull back up into my hip and raise my heel high up behind me, undulating back again, and beginning to move toward rising.
Before class, I filled myself with inspiration. I listened to a Buddhist talk on stillness, that included the idea that although the positive behaviors and habits we cultivate are an important part of the path, ultimately, even these are a mask, and if we are to fully wake up, we have to let go of even these positive stories that we tell ourselves. In the morning also, I read some selected excerpts on Dzogchen, a spiritual system that emphasizes opening to bare, naked, luminous, absolute reality, on the spot. Here. Now.
Staccato’s appearance is unmistakable, and Ray encourages us to let go of the hips. The room is wild, expressive. I move around, connecting with many successive dancers, including my favorite dance partner of all time, who I circle in a twittering lasso, my hands grazing the ground as I greet him, entreating him to dance. After my first turn with him, I partner with a young woman who I haven’t seen before, and she teaches me a new way to engage my knees, opening possibilities for moving. “Go even deeper, with breath,” Ray offers. Next, I join with an exuberant dancer who seems to move from her inner thighs. I imagine that I am moving in her body, exchanging myself for her, exchanging self for other.
Chaos appears exactly when it should; and it is everything. Sometimes it is hard work for me to be in Flowing and leave the edges out. I am grateful to be in Chaos, where anything goes, and I can be as sharp as I want to be, as soft, as tense, as released, as gigantic, as minute. The room continues to be dynamic, with some people dancing in a given spot, and others moving quickly around the space. A thought comes and I say “thinking” and return to awareness, moving totally creatively and as part of the entire organism at once. I imagine that I remove my skin, hang it on one of the room’s center columns and dance around in my bones. The outer boundaries of me are not so clear, the other bodies might be my body, too. I dance my friend’s heart, feeling the pain of her heartbreaks, feeling her incredible tenderness, her magic, her power. Chaos and Lyrical dance back and forth with each other as the wave finds its closing expression. In Stillness, cold wind from the window causes a strong sensation on my exposed skin; and I turn to dance with it, beginning with the rocking and bouncing tree branches below the height of the window, then with the wind itself. Turning toward the room again, I move with inner winds that swirl around inside and near my body, especially along the sides of the spine.
After the first wave, Ray pauses us only briefly, not calling us to sit around him, but instead inviting us to stay where we are and just turn toward him for a moment. “We have to dance like this could be our last dance,” he says, “because you never know.” He goes on to say, “I’m going to share something with you. Almost exactly twelve years ago, I lost my wife.” He shares that this tragedy is what compelled him to step over the line into 5Rhythms. He goes on to say, “Hold nothing back. Just give it all you’ve got,” and “I invite you to dance, too, with those who are no longer with us.”
Ray appears to be in a place of humility and strength, of vulnerability and clarity, and capable of transmitting this clarion call, this urgent message, in a way that we can hear. Hold nothing back, his entire self communicates, hold nothing back, you have no time to lose, you might not get another chance to give more, to give better, to give fully, this could be your only chance.
I feel a gasp of sadness rise up into my throat and the woman next to me starts to sob. I don’t know her and I don’t want her to think I’m trying to fix her, but after a momentary hesitation, I reach out and put my hand behind her upper spine. She turns and hugs me, still shaking. She smiles through her tears, eyes shining, mouth closed, and puts her palm on my cheek.
I think of a work colleague who died this summer, young, in a car crash. In a circle discussion at work, we each had a chance to offer our thoughts. “If my time comes,” I said, “I only pray that I have emptied my whole self out. That I have been of service. That I have offered everything that I have in me to offer.” Breath snagged on something inside; and I cried for several aching heaves.
Ray starts the music again, and I check out for a few short moments, then say “thinking” and come back in. Energy flags slightly, I note slight inertia in Flowing. We glance through Staccato and then dive fully into Chaos again. “Release!” Ray cries out from the teacher’s table, and the room explodes. Chaos keeps going and going and going, rings of a tree, going back to its start as a sapling, as an acorn, when the tree was already contained in it. I connect with a dancer I’ve never seen before, delighted by her unique expression. I remember my maternal grandmother and cry, wishing I could have loved her better. I think of my paternal grandmother, who just died this past spring, and how she left in a whisper. Friends of similar age to me who have died come next. My friend Gerard, who died at 36, tells me again, you just have to do it, Meg, just open up, step up, let it in, you don’t need anything but what you already have. Howard, another dear friend, who died just a few weeks before Gerard also comes to mind. When I got the phone call about Howard’s death, I was with my son Simon, then an infant, dancing to the flights of birds from a rooftop pigeon coop who swoop in a rolling loop over Wythe Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, while Simon watched me from his stroller, the reflections of clouds rushing over the planes of my eyes, my arms raised and turning all of the planes of me.
As I move through the room, the energetic bodies that extend beyond the skin pass through me.
The sky beckons me. I ache for it. I start to climb up over the ballet bar, but am sure it’s against the rules and withdraw my leg. A new friend seems to think I need help and holds my elbow, unwittingly encouraging me. I know I’m going to get into trouble, but I just have to. I mean I have to, so I climb up over the bar, through the window, onto the cold metal fire escape. I keep my feet planted and soar up into the sky. I think of the Dzogchen teaching of open sky, the principle of space, of unrestricted awareness. My movements are unmoored from intentionality, totally intuitive. Tears pour down my face, drawing around the curve of my chin and neck. I am barely visible, with my back to the bricks, my feet on the cold metal, but a member of the crew spies me and comes and says, “This is not safe. Sorry, but you have to come down from there.” I climb down into the room and continue to move, near the window, to the wind, the sky, with space. I move again throughout the room, whispering through, not separate. I find one dancer sitting in meditation, and lower myself down next to him. Thoughts come but awareness dominates. I reflect that I can wake up fully in this lifetime, that I am destined to, that all of us are. The room is luminous, bodies alive. Ray mixes a tonal track with a recording of Gabrielle Roth, the revered creator of the 5Rhythms practice, speaking. She says, we believe that if we keep dancing, over years and hundreds of dances, we can shed what doesn’t serve, we can let go of what no longer serves. Tears are a river down the whole front of me.
Ray brings us all into a circle that completely fills the spacious studio, and enacts a closing ritual that allows each person to be heard and seen, re-membered after having been shattered and scattered and taken apart during the course of this Sunday morning 5Rythms class.
If this was my last dance ever, I know that I stepped up with everything I had to give. What else is there, really? Nothing but boundless love, the cessation of all that blocks it, and the chances we are given to live it. Nothing but this tiny life and what we choose to fill it with. Ojala, gods-willing, let me choose well, let me not die wishing I hadn’t held back during my very last dance, let me empty out my whole heart first, in service and in love.
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher. Unedited Image “Riskall” copyright Meghan LeBorious
Daniela Peltekova, who moved from NYC to Los Angeles a year ago, taught the Sunday Sweat Your Prayers class at the Joffrey in the West Village today. For her, a homecoming, for me, an occasion of unbridled joy and unflagging engagement. I asked Henya, the class producer, “Daniela’s teaching today, right?” just as a friendly hand rubbed my back, which, it turned out, belonged to Daniela, who sort of waltzed into the studio wearing a long, red dress.
In part because I have been teaching mindfulness to teens, I have been reading “Mindfulness in Plain English” by Bhante Gunaratana. He writes that although at a high degree of attainment, compassion will arise spontaneously, for most of us we need to enact some intermediary steps, when we consciously cultivate compassion to help us along. He writes that resentment is by far our biggest relative impediment, and implies that we need to divest of resentment at all costs if we want to progress on our paths.
Stepping into the room, I move through a Tibetan practice, then offer, “May I be of service” and bow deeply, acknowledging the sacred space of the practice room. I take a slow lap around the room’s perimeter, carving around the piano, pausing by the teacher’s table to share a softer and more flowing hug with Daniela, then continuing my lap, carving around the speakers, and around the occasional edge-hugging bodies who are warming up slowly on the floor.
An installation has been created especially for the class. It includes a table draped with several shades of red fabric ranging from tomato to almost-purple red. There is also a large, red glass Buddha head, and several other sparkling red objects. Shambhala teacher Irini Rockwell has written extensively on the idea of the Five Buddha Families, including the idea that we each tend more toward one of the five. “Amitabha,” she writes, “the Buddha of the Padma family, is red and represents discriminating-awareness wisdom and its opposite, passion or grasping.”
A practice intention to rid myself of a difficult-to-extinguish thread of resentment began to form.
After my opening lap, I lowered myself to a spot on the floor to the left of Daniela’s table. A tonal version of the mantra of the sort-of-Tibetan-deity, Tara, pulls me into coiling motion as I circulate, extending the side of my body, stretching my ribs, grabbing my toes as I rise and turn around, stretching the big muscles of my upper legs. I sprawl out flat on the floor, both on my back and stomach as I continued to move through every spoke of a great wheel.
Not sure I was ready to let the ground be so far from my heart, I drew myself up to my feet with slight hesitation. A woman who has triggered resentment for me over the last few years danced exuberantly, taking up space. Resentment first snagged at a workshop, when the teacher invited us to partner and I joined with the man closest to me. We began to move together, but this woman very boldly stepped sideways right between us, facing him and casting her hand up, her back to me, seeming to totally disregard me. I felt annoyed, but moved away and found a new partner, enjoying an overall delightful workshop. In the years that have followed, though, whenever I see her, I remember that experience, and I just can’t be happy for her when she is exultant. I rehearse what I want to tell her about how she wronged me. I notice her in the room. It is a perfect manifestation of resentment, that harms no one but me. Intellectually, I know that resentment doesn’t give me more power, but some part of me still seems to believe that it does.
My mother-in-law used to tell an allegory about a churchgoer. The woman would say again and again on her knees, “Lord heavenly Father, please remove these hateful spider webs from my heart. Lord heavenly Father, please remove these hateful spider webs from my heart.” After years of this prayer, another churchgoer finally said to her, “Sister, I don’t know about all this praying about the spiderwebs. I think what you need to do is get that old spider out of your heart!”
The wave carried me along delightfully, delivering perfect energy. Moving with open, expressive hips and leading shoulders, I noticed the friend who had reminded me Daniela would be teaching this day. She was beaming, casting her arms behind her as she leaned deep forward, her released head keeping the beat, deep in her hips, too.
As we moved from Staccato to Chaos, I shared several brief dances, thinking I would dance with the whole room, then unexpectedly found myself in partnership. Another excellent friend, my favorite dance partner of all time, appeared as I was starting a swooping lap, and I leapt into movement with him. We were wild as Daniela mixed a track with a house club anthem from the 1990’s that I love. We were also totally available to each others’ surprises, extending and falling, wiggling and rolling energetically on the ground. He started to move around me in a circle, and I started to follow right behind him, laughing, changing direction abruptly to meet him face-to-face in his arc, then both of us spinning out, extending the space our dance took place in. I felt incredibly stable on my legs and feet for some reason, and did a lot of experiments with raising, twisting and engaging my knees, sometimes on one leg for long stretches, reaching my fingertips to the ground, my knee and leg up.
Soon, I found another friend, and we shared a subtle dance in Lyrical, carefully carving the air around us and tracing designs on the linoleum floor with our toe tips.
Instead of stopping everyone and sitting down between the first and second waves, as often happens in two-hour classes, Daniela kept us moving, speaking briefly as she moved among us, talking about “picking up the many pieces of ourselves” as we moved. I didn’t know how to relate to a few of the tracks in this middle transition, and engagement flagged slightly, but very soon I was swept away again by the second wave. I danced with the entire room, tunneling through avenues of legs, soaring and gliding into the spaces above and between.
The spider in my heart grew transparent, a white line drawing. I directly invoked the spirits and asked for help, not for getting rid of the spider webs, but for help with eradicating the spider completely forever, asking for an end to resentment, letting the dissolve and then realizing it needed a more dramatic gesture, and envisioning it being blasted instead.
In Lyrical of the second wave, I joined with another good friend, released, joyful, creative, digging into tiny details on the ground, and alternately extended in flight.
A rain of gold leaves came down, landing on the upward planes of me, then entering and filling the volume of my body, cancelling out the spider. I looked to their source and saw only vast, endless space and the glittering of falling blessings.
November 12, 2017
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher. (Images copyright Meghan LeBorious, 2007)
The themes Tammy addressed during this week’s Friday Night Waves class aligned with what I had been experiencing in my own life that day. Yet another hurricane had ravaged the Caribbean a short time before, causing vast destruction, including flattening nearly the entire country of Puerto Rico into piles of sticks and broken concrete. Robert Glasser, The UN Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction, commented, “There can be little doubt that 2017 is turning into a year of historic significance in the struggle against climate change and all the other risks that put human life in danger and threaten the peace and security of exposed and vulnerable communities … who find themselves in harm’s way from hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes.” (Vox.com, September 22, 2017) The violent white nationalist movement appears to be gaining strength. The president has escalated his nuclear saber rattling toward North Korea. And the same president attempts to abuse football players who want to express their disenchantment with the current state of America into silence.
Working on a book at a café, I am swept with tides of weepiness. Having trouble getting my mind off of the 70,000 people (including a friend’s family) in Isabela, Puerto Rico, who live in the shadow of a giant dam that is on the verge of bursting after such an incredible amount of rain with Hurricane Maria. As I said in the last post, I no longer find the Christian idea of apocalypse so far-fetched.
In the morning, I go to a walk-in medical clinic, certain that I have an ear infection. For the two nights previous, I woke up in the early morning and couldn’t fall back to sleep because of the pain. In fact, I am so sure I have an ear infection that I take an amoxicillin pill that I have on hand, a medication often prescribed for ear infections. To my surprise, the doctor says she sees no sign of infection whatsoever. Not even slight redness. “Do you grind your teeth at night?” she asks. I nod, thinking, who in America isn’t grinding their teeth lately?
Despite my serious concerns about the world and my place in it, I have been experiencing joy lately, too. At the moment, I’m teaching mindfulness (almost synonymous to meditation for these purposes) to eight different classes at the high school where I teach. It has been a dream for me to bring this work to students, and it could not be more timely. Also, my no-longer-small son, Simon, is happy and thriving after the first two weeks of second grade. On top of that, the weather has been spectacular. To make me even happier, Tammy, who teaches all over the world and often has to rely on substitute teachers for the Friday Night Waves class, is leading the class, and I manage to arrive on time.
In the rhythm of Flowing, Tammy plays a heartbreaking song with a West African vocalist, whose tender voice soars. I often start on floor off to one side, but today I’m on my feet, moving through the room, looking for all the movement that is available in my spine, feeling the people around me, pausing in pockets to stretch and move on the floor, but feeling integrated with the room at once.
In Staccato, Tammy plays a song with a lyric that is something like, there is no warning for the revolution. I am fierce, gigantic, taking huge sideways steps, clenching my fists, crying out gutterally, and sinking low into the hips. I think about revolution, in detail. I join with a friend and we explore the following song, which is full of resistance and grit. I find flexion in my pelvis, front and back, even when I sink low with my hips nearly on my heels, scooping the air, drawing power in, sending it out.
The rhythm of Chaos lasts and lasts. I am wild, both with partners and on my own. Chaos, the rhythm of release, is a fusion of the rhythms of Staccato and of Flowing, but today my Chaos very much tends toward Staccato – the rhythm of action, of stepping up and taking one’s place in the world. I keep taking breaks to totally soften myself, then return to engaging resistance, finding odd and unexpected forms, including picking up my heels sideways, reaching with force to the farthest edges of my range, and exploring balance, sometimes passing its edge.
Lately, I have noticed a pressing outward, sideways at the back of my neck. It is planar, linear, like a giant grain of rice. I have been able to soften this area, feeling my head and neck grow upward as a result. I sometimes have a sore neck after yoga or dance practice, but today my neck seems more released than usual, even with such a Staccato edge in Chaos.
As the wave concludes and we move through Lyrical and Stillness, it hits me that I probably won’t be taking Simon to meet (his paternal) family in Puerto Rico this summer, as I have planned, and further, that the coastal town most of them live in, for most intents and purposes, probably no longer exists. So far, we have not had any contact with them, and have no idea how they have fared. My face tightens in grief. I move inward.
“We have all the time in the world, and yet, we have no time to lose,” Tammy says during a period of verbal teaching between the first and second waves of the class. I cry while she talks, hot tears, jumping forward and out. Tammy talks about the many disasters of the preceding week, offering, that some people here have relatives they can’t even reach at the moment. I realize I am in that category, though grief seems even bigger than one event. Tammy also evokes the creator of the practice, Gabrielle Roth, expressing gratitude for the map she has established for us, and recalls that Gabrielle herself believed we had entered into a period of collective Chaos. She says something that reaches me as: even when it feels like the world is falling apart, at least we have this practice.
Moving into the class’s second wave, I am withdrawn. I open my attention to the people around me and try to bring mindfulness to the feeling of my feet on the floor. Even so, I have lost the caterwauling ebullience of the first wave and sort of creep along. Internally, I think, “Please let me find a partner so I can get out of this constrained little story in my head.” Sure enough, before long, Tammy invites us to partner, and nearly everyone in the room quickly pairs up. I’m snapped back in, engaged, and I beam, joining forces with successive partners, though Chaos, too, finds me more subdued in this second wave.
In Lyrical I join with a favorite partner, sharing a dance of seedlings, of offering, whispering, twittering, of casting forward, down, up, around, leaping through every available level, brushing my hands on the floor and then skyward again, experiencing the full extension of my arms, then undulating forward from the sternum, breath filling my hands and pouring out of them onto the floor, into the room.
I drift away from my friend as the room transitions into Stillness, and move closer to Tammy. My movements become subtle, and I turn my attention to finding every possible articulation of my coccyx, thinking again about the idea of apocalypse, wondering how much my practice will be tested in the coming months, wondering how much I have to give, wondering how bad things can get and if they will ever get better. I also wonder if I can find a way to wake up no matter what, and if I can lead the way for my son, no matter what comes, even if the dam breaks.
“Strive at first to meditate upon the sameness of yourself and others. In joy and sorrow all are equal.” –Pema Chödrön, No Time to Lose: A Timely Guide to the Way of the Bodhisattva
September 24, 2017, Brooklyn, NYC
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.